Despite a recent scientific review in Europe of bisphenol A that ended up raising the safe ingestion level of BPA to an amount five times higher than what was established five years ago, legislative and legal efforts to ban BPA in children's products, particularly baby bottles, continue to increase in the United States.
Four states - California, Maryland, Massachusetts and Maine - have introduced legislation this year to ban children's products containing BPA, which would include any products made from polycarbonate.
In addition, Robert Weiss, a Jericho, N.Y., lawyer who has been involved in vinyl chloride litigation, filed a billion-dollar-plus class-action lawsuit March 12 in Los Angeles Superior Court against five leading manufacturers of PC baby bottles. His action came just two weeks after the Environment California Research & Policy Center released the results of an independent study that found leaching rates of BPA from those bottles to be 5-10 parts per billion.
Weiss said provisions in California consumer protection statutes require companies to disclose dangers in scientific literature related to their products. The lawsuit seeks to have the industry and retailers refund to California consumers all the money spent in the state on baby bottles made with BPA.
``They have manipulated and tried to repress the scientific evidence,'' Weiss said. ``The chemical industry is doing what the tobacco industry has done.''
In a positive development for BPA producers, however, San Francisco, which passed the first ban on children's products containing BPA in June, still plans to reverse direction and prevent its ban from going into effect. Amendments currently at the committee level and scheduled for a vote March 22 would rescind the ban on children's products containing BPA, which originally was scheduled to go into effect Dec. 1, 2006, but has been on hold.
With the increased activity surrounding BPA, the industry had hoped that an independent panel of 15 scientists convened by the Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction would address many of the concerns surrounding BPA when it met March 6-8 in Alexandria, Va.
But the panel postponed its final report for at least two months because of more than 500 studies it had to evaluate, a profusion of evidence from both sides and a new controversy: the disclosure that Sciences International, an independent firm in Alexandria, Va., that does much of the center's testing, also has done work for industrial customers including Dow Chemical Co. and BASF Corp. - both BPA makers.
Sciences International was excused from the meeting because of that potential conflict of interest.
``The meeting turned very rancorous'' and had to be postponed, said Weiss, after people from consumer groups produced more than 200 pieces of evidence ``disclosing the dangers of BPA.''
``It is hard to tell where the panel will end up in terms of conclusions,'' added Steve Hentges, executive director of the polycarbonate/BPA unit of the American Chemistry Council's plastics division in Arlington, Va. ``But it is going to be a comprehensive report so it will likely be considered worldwide'' - even though the panel has no authority to regulate BPA or to require additional testing.
Even with the questions surrounding that report and its findings, Hentges said he does not anticipate bans being enacted, given the results of a European scientific review that were released six weeks ago, and San Francisco's retreat from its ban.
``It will be hard to pass a ban on something that scientists around the world see as safe,'' he said.
Hentges pointed to a decision by the European Food Safety Authority last month to set the TDI, or tolerable daily intake, level of BPA at 0.05 milligram a day per kilogram of body weight - five times higher than the temporary level of 0.01 established in 2002.
``The view of EFSA is very reassuring as they found the scientific evidence is stronger now than it was five years ago and [is] enough to justify an increase in the safe exposure level,'' Hentges said.
EFSA had this to say on the topic: ``The contamination of food and drinks from bottles and cans containing BPA is so slight that people's dietary exposure to BPA - including the exposure of infants and children - is estimated to be well below the new TDI.''
TDI is the estimated amount of BPA that can be ingested daily over a lifetime without appreciable risk.
EFSA said its review of more than 200 new scientific reports published in the past five years showed ``significant differences in how humans and rodents metabolize BPA.''
``People metabolize and excrete BPA far faster,'' said EFSA, which raises ``considerable doubts about the relevance, for humans, of any low-dose observation in rodents. Low-dose endocrine effects of BPA in rodents have not been demon- strated in a robust and reproducible way that they could be used as pivotal studies for risk assessment.''
The agency said ``the absence of adverse effects'' in a study on mice and two generations of their offspring released last year by RTI International in Research Triangle Park, N.C., ``adds further confidence to the risk assessment.''
BPA critics point to animal studies that suggest BPA mimics the hormone estrogen, can alter brain structure and chemistry and can have an adverse effect on the immune system and reproductive organs. Some scientists have linked low doses of BPA to impaired immune functions, early onset of puberty, obesity and diabetes.
In his class-action lawsuit, Weiss said laboratory tests found that when baby bottles are heated, potentially dangerous levels of BPA leak into the liquid.
``Putting something dangerous in a baby's mouth is going to trump everything,'' he said. ``They will have an extremely hard time'' without making some changes, such as requiring a warning label on baby products that contain BPA.
An independent consortium concerned with issues related to food, chemicals and health - which has been criticized for often taking pro-industry stances - disagreed.
``The public belief in the `low-dose hypothesis' is an example of the truism that people will believe something if it is repeated often enough,'' said Gilbert Ross, medical director of the American Council on Science and Health in New York.
``The scientific support for this concept is weak and unreliable and certainly should not be used to set public policy about environmental chemicals,'' Ross added.
``When you look at all the evidence together in what might be called a weight-of-evidence evaluation, you come away not particularly concerned,'' said Hentges.
``If you look at single studies, you can get yourself confused and come to conclusions that are quite inconsistent.''